Corruption in the Clergy

Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve Apostles chosen by Jesus, committed the most abominable crime in the history of humanity by betraying Jesus Christ into the hands of his enemies. Through his act of betrayal he made himself to be the most base and despicable human being ever.

Nevertheless, the gravity of his crime depends upon the truth of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. If Jesus was not the Son of God, he was a mere religious charlatan, himself a base and despicable human being of the worst type. In that case, Judas’ betrayal was at worst no more base than any other betrayal of a mere human friendship.

Judas Iscariot also represents all the priests and bishops throughout history who by their corruption and crimes have betrayed the Lord whom they represent.

In that light I interrupt the series I have been writing on Eucharistic discipleship to address an historic and tragic event in the life of the Church.

On July 28 the USCCB website posted a terse news release: “Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington [DC], from the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis has also imposed on Cardinal McCarrick suspension a divinis and directs him to observe a life of prayer and penance in seclusion until the completion of the canonical process.”

Archbishop McCarrick was once one of the most powerful and influential bishops in the United States. Historically it has been extremely rare that a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church has lost his office, even by way of resigning under pressure.

Why did this happen? Two accusations of the Archbishop molesting teenage boys back in the 1970s were made public and multiple accusations of his molesting seminarians through the 80s and 90s.

What is the significance of theses crimes? The crimes alone, committed by someone who was rising rapidly in the hierarchy of the Church, were bad enough; worse is the revelation of the web of corruption that allowed such a man to attain such a high position in the Church. It is not just a matter of the Archbishop, but of those who knew something, but were afraid to speak, or at least afraid to go on the record, and of those who knew something, but kept silent because they were willingly complicit. We are left wondering just how many bishops and priests might be complicit and how many might have been compromised through fear. Finally, it is now clear that a powerful homosexual network has existed among the Roman Catholic clergy in this country (and elsewhere).

Words are scarcely adequate to describe the monstrous evil involved here, not just the harm done to innocents, but the sacrilege, the blasphemy, the offense against God. May the Lord purify his Church!

This is the sort of scandal that is so immense that it will be no wonder if many leave the Church because of it and that many will lose their faith in God. It is every easy now for someone to make an argument along these lines about the Catholic Church: “See! I told you so! The whole thing is just an elaborate power structure that enables wicked men to indulge in perverse men crimes by clothing themselves with the holiness of the priesthood and presenting themselves as representatives of God!”

Well, let us not shy away from the challenge: Is that indeed what it boils down to? Is that what the Catholic Church is after all? Just a massive, perverse fraud?

If that were the case, while it would be fair to point out the hypocrisy of the criminal conspirators (the priests and bishops) who say one thing and do another, it would not be fair to use the very language of Catholic holiness to condemn them.

As I said at the outset, if Jesus was no more than a charlatan, betraying him was not such a horrific crime. So also if the Catholic the priesthood is not what it claims to be and if Jesus Christ is not who he claims to be, then the evil of the corrupt clergy is no different from any other corruption. The full horror of these crimes is only perceived when through faith they are recognized as a betrayal of Jesus Christ, of his Church, and of his priesthood.

Truly evil actions are not limited to Catholic priests and bishops, but are spread far and wide among the human race, from high levels of power to low levels of pettiness. When we come face to face with anything that is truly evil we are shocked, we are outraged, something deep within us rises up in opposition and declares, “This should not be! This must not be!”

This is an instinctive reaction, but we can ask if reflects the truth. The greatness of the evil involved can only be grasped in relation to the greatness of the good that is corrupted thereby. Is that good real? Or is it only an illusion? If the good is an illusion, so is the evil. If the good is real, then it points to God as the origin of all good. The reality of goodness is actually harder to explain than the presence of the evil that corrupts the good.

Once we grasp that we are perhaps ready to grasp the answer that God himself gives: The Cross and Resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.




Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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